December 3, 2023

Dr. Yolanda Pierce will become dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School effective July 1, pending board approval.Dr.  Yolanda PierceDr. Yolanda Pierce

“During the search process, Yolanda Pierce stood out for her outstanding national leadership at the intersection of religion and public life,” said Dr. C. Cybele Raver, Vanderbilt provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Dean Pierce is not only an outstanding public leader, but also a deeply personal writer and scholar who will bring to Vanderbilt Divinity School her profound insights into the role of faith and spirituality in society, particularly in the context of African American culture.”

A public theologian and leader on the role of religion in public life, Pierce is currently dean and professor of religion at Howard University School of Divinity. She is the first woman in this role.

“Dean Pierce has been instrumental in a period of growth at the Howard School of Divinity and is committed to helping our Divinity School flourish through cross-institutional and community partnerships while furthering the University’s commitment to belonging and inclusion,” Raver said.

Author In My Grandmother’s House: Black Women, Faith, and the Stories We Inherit and Hell Without Fire: Slavery, Christianity, and Antebellum Spiritual Narratives, Pierce is the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Center for the Study of African American Religious Life and was one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans in 2015.

Pierce was formerly a tenured faculty member in English and African American Studies at the University of Kentucky and an associate professor of religion and literature and founding director of the Center for Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary.

“I am honored and excited for the opportunity to serve as dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, an innovator in 21st-century theological education, and to work with dedicated faculty and staff in preparing outstanding ministers and scholars,” Pierce said. “I have long heard of the school’s rich history as an advocate for racial and social justice, and I look forward to building on the strong foundation that Emilie Townes and others have created to create this precious community.”

She is also a member of organizations such as the American Academy of Religion; Modern Language Association; American Academy of Religion; and the American Historical Association.

Pierce holds a Ph.D. in religion and literature and an M.A. from Cornell University and a B.A. from Princeton University.

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